Snapshots of candidates running for city council in 2014.
Candidate: Russ Ford (age 60)
Ward: Ward 6 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), currently represented by Mark Grimes, who is running for his fourth term.
Background: Ford is on leave from the LAMP Community Health Centre, a non-profit that provides health services to the community, where he is executive director. Its health programming includes recreation programs, a drop-in program for homeless people, harm reduction, and clinical services for people who do not have OHIP. During Ford’s tenure at LAMP, the organization’s budget has grown from $2 million to $13 million. Ford also worked for 10 years in the policy and planning department of the City of Toronto.
He is married and has two adult children, and in his spare time likes playing sports and watching documentaries. He makes it clear that he is not related in any way to the more famous political candidates named Ford.
On why he’s running for council: “I’m running for council to change the agenda of City Hall. I think Toronto wants a progressive council. I’m running here because of my roots in the community and this is one of the few wards where we can actually make a change from a Rob Ford stalwart to a progressive councillor.”
On ward priorities: “What we have is a situation where condos are getting built, and there is no public investment in the infrastructure of the city. It’s causing major problems. And transit down here is just craziness, on Lake Shore Boulevard. People can’t get past their street to get onto the Gardiner. There has been zero planning. In fact, Councillor Grimes tried to move a motion to give developers an incentive to build condos along the waterfront, to which [City Planner] Jennifer Keesmaat said, ‘I think building on the waterfront is the incentive.’ There’s no child care centres, there’s no schools, there’s no public infrastructure to support an increasingly large population. That is a major issue.” Ford also said there’s a need for better constituent outreach and service.
For City services, what are the nice-to-haves versus the must-haves? “I think you have to take an equity perspective to it. I think you look at everything and say, ‘Does this make the city more or less equitable?’ If it doesn’t meet that measure, then it’s a nice-to-have. But we need support. The income gap in this city is obviously increasing, and it creates a number of social issues in this city which the City has basically ignored.
It applies to transit, for example. You look at the Scarborough extension versus the proposed LRT. The proposed LRT in Scarborough went to a number of low-income communities. Obviously, the Scarborough subway extension does not do that. So from an equity point of view—and low-income people are higher users, as a percentage, of public services, like transit—from an equity perspective alone the LRT makes so much more sense. Forget the financial stuff, although there, of course, the LRT makes more sense, too.”
Why Ward 6 should be angry with the Ford era: “They should be angry because the agenda of Rob Ford is anti-community. You look at the voting record, the budget where they tried to cut services for people. This phoney notion that the City was in financial turmoil when they came to power—it’s ridiculous. By law, the City cannot run a deficit. The City of Toronto never has a deficit. He used that right-wing mantra to try to cut very important services to people, and also I think it was extremely mean-spirited.
I’ll give you two examples. Attempting to cut the Christmas Bureau. Only affects low income kids, it means nothing to the City budget. They tried to impose a tax on garbage collection on charities and churches. Again, minimal impact on the city budget. But it’s indicative of an anti-community spirit. People in this area—across the city—voted for Rob Ford, because he came across as the common man. Well, Rob Ford is not the common man, nor does his agenda advocate for the common man. I’m hearing it at the door, because my name is Ford. Many people say, ‘You’re with the mayor,’ and I say, ‘No, no, ironically my name is Ford, I’m the anti-Ford candidate, and ironically I’m running against one of his biggest supporters.’ When people hear that they go, ‘Oh, thank God,’ and I get the vote.”
What’s the most overlooked issue at City Hall? “The biggest overlooked broad issue is poverty and income disparity. There are some councillors who support it, there are reports that come out. But when you look at, for example, David Hulchanski’s report on the Three Torontos [PDF], if you read that and you’re not alarmed by where this city is heading, you must have ice water in the veins.”